FCC's Pai Puts Final Bullet In Net Neutrality Ahead Of Potential Demotion
from the one more time around dept
While the courts partially upheld the FCC’s hugely unpopular net neutrality repeal just about a year ago, it also kicked some aspects of the repeal back to the FCC. Most notably, the courts stated the Ajit Pai FCC couldn’t ban states from protecting consumers if the FCC is no longer interested in doing so. The courts also noted that the FCC (surprise!) did little to no research into how the repeal would impact public safety or efforts to bridge the digital divide (the latter being kind of important in a massive pandemic).
Knowing that Pai could face demotion under a possible Biden administration, the agency is now rushing forward to try and address these concerns and put the finishing touches on the least popular tech policy decision in modern history, short of SOPA/PIPA.
As is his way, Pai published a coy and folksy editorial over at Medium, trotting out several well-tread falsehoods one last time, including the claim that ending net neutrality drove more network investment (this is absolutely false), that net neutrality was just a silly pet project of Silicon Valley elites and Hollywood (the rules had overwhelming, bipartisan public support as well as the support of every U.S. consumer group), and the GOP, telco, and telecom policy tourist favorite — that the rules must not have mattered because the internet didn’t immediately end in a massive rainbow-colored explosion:
“In 2017, numerous Washington politicians, far-left special-interest groups, Hollywood stars, and Silicon Valley tech giants, as well as many in the media, tried to scare the American people about what would happen once the FCC adopted the Restoring Internet Freedom Order. In that order, we overturned the previous Administration’s decision to heavily regulate the Internet like a slow-moving utility under rules developed in the 1930s and restored the longstanding, bipartisan, market-based approach. The American people were told that they would get the Internet one word at a time. They were told that they would have to pay $5 per tweet. They were told that it would be the end of the Internet as we know it. It was frightening stuff to be sure, but it was utter nonsense.
While it’s true the repeal saw no shortage of hyperbole on both sides of the fight, this is the same drivel Pai has been spouting since the repeal began nearly four years ago. The FCC’s repeal didn’t just kill net neutrality rules, it hamstrung the FCC’s ability to stand up and police giant telecom monopolies. As a result, AT&T now uses broadband usage caps and overage fees to unfairly penalize users who don’t use AT&T’s streaming services. Verizon now charges you more money if you’d prefer your video connections not be throttled. Companies charge all manner of bogus, non-transparent fees, including rental fees for hardware consumers already own. This FCC couldn’t give any less of a shit about any of it.
To understand the net neutrality repeal properly, you have to view it in context of the FCC’s other behaviors. Not only did the Pai FCC kill net neutrality, it killed the FCC’s ability to adequately regulate the sector it’s in charge of. It also rubber stamped competition and job-killing megadeals before it had even seen any objective data. The GOP killed FCC privacy rules before they could take effect. 42 million Americans lack access to broadband. 83 million more live under broadband monopolies, usually Comcast. The U.S. broadband sector is a broken, uncompetitive mess. Kissing monopoly ass fixes none of this.
Perhaps in fantasyland letting AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast do whatever they want results in Utopian outcomes, but in reality it results in the same competition problems, high prices, atrocious customer service, and spotty broadband coverage Americans have enjoyed for the better part of 30 years. However, Pai clearly still believes he bravely stood up to the evil Google/Netflix empire and the “Hollywood elite” to free the internet from “antiquated regulation.”
In reality, he effectively gutted a U.S. regulators’ ability to police predatory telecom monopolies with thirty-year track records of clear, anti-competitive, anti-consumer behaviors. Tomato, tomaahto. In Pai’s world, he was the victim. And, much like the rest of Trumpland, no matter how much evidence to the contrary is presented, Pai insists his giant middle finger in the face of U.S. consumers and objective data resulted in untold, miraculous outcomes:
“And what’s been the result? The Internet has remained free and open. And it’s stronger than ever. Millions more Americans have access to the Internet today than in 2017. In 2018 and then again in 2019, the United States set records for annual fiber deployment, and we’ve seen network investment hit levels that our nation hadn’t seen for over a decade. In fact, since we adopted the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, average download speeds for fixed broadband in the United States have doubled, increasing by over 99% (so much for getting the Internet one word at a time). And in 2018 and 2019, we added over 72,000 wireless cell sites in the United States, after adding fewer than 20,000 in the prior four years.”
Except again, claims of exploding network investment are false (in fact, both AT&T and Comcast trimmed investment this year). The rest of Pai’s data points had nothing to do with repealing net neutrality. Much of the fiber growth Pai continues to take credit for were thanks to fiber deployment conditions affixed by the previous FCC to AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV. And to community broadband efforts the Pai FCC have attempted to ban. And one of the biggest reasons the internet didn’t explode upon repeal is states stepped up and passed their own version of the rules. That has kept ISPs from behaving even worse, though again Pai’s FCC, at AT&T’s and Comcast’s behest, has tried to ban states from protecting consumers. So important is it to Trumpland and the telecom sector that nobody have the authority to hold it accountable on the federal, state, or local level, the DOJ is even trying to help.
It’s telling that Pai has spent four years listening to a laundry list of experts inform him as to why his approach was the wrong one, and not a single falsehood in his repertoire has changed. Pai’s still out here claiming regulatory capture somehow results in amazing outcomes the lion’s share of broadband-using Americans can clearly see aren’t true. This kind of ideology first, facts later partisan hubris has set U.S. broadband policy back years at the worst possible time. Shortly after Pai got done whispering sweet nothings into the ears of telecom monopolies, a massive pandemic struck, only highlighting U.S. broadband shortcomings further.
No matter how many times telecom-loyal politicians, regulators, consultants, think tankers, and policy yes men claim otherwise, kissing Comcast’s and AT&T’s ass isn’t serious adult policy. It’s regulatory capture and corruption. And if you can’t see the negative impact this has on competition, consumers, tech innovation, and communications markets after 30 years of U.S. broadband monopolization, consolidation, and dysfunction, you’re part of the problem.